Burning desire combined with right action brings fulfillment. Like heating steel or glass before bending and molding allows for the shape to be changed, heating the body and changing its shape brings the same transformative qualities. When you are sick, you sometimes get a fever which helps defend against the invading microbes.
The body's response to heat is both defensive and protective; the heat prepares you to defend and "sweating" protects you from the heat. These are the opposing sympathetic and parasympathetic actions of the autonomic nervous system working together to maintain equilibrium in the body. This system is involuntary, meaning it is without conscious control. In yoga, we work to bring the unconscious to our awareness and at that point, we can take responsibility and begin to find our equilibrium.
Muscular action warms up the body. The internal heat increases the peripheral circulation promoting relaxation to the area and releasing muscular resistance allowing movement to be smoother and more efficient. The increase in circulation causes the heart to pump faster and harder. The generated heat stimulates the body to sweat to cool itself off. As the actions are sustained, conditioning occurs.
Heat also increases vasodilation, heart rate and stroke volume (amount of blood ejected with each beat). This strengthens the heart muscle and increases its efficiency. It detoxifies many toxins that are encapsulated in fat and also stimulates fat breakdown. The skin transforms fat soluble toxins to water soluble ones to be excreted via kidneys. Heating up the body stimulates the immune system, increasing white blood cell production. It also increases peripheral blood flow which relieves pain and speeds healing of connective tissue injuries and peripheral vascular disease symptoms.
The biggest loss of heat from the body is by conduction, heat moving from greater to lesser. Therefore, the ambient temperature need only be a few degrees above the normal body temperature of 98.6 F. The condition of the person, the nature of the practice which affects internal heat production and the ambient conditions (humidity and air circulation) is a very important aspect of hot yoga. Dehydration and high humidity levels interfere with the cooling mechanism. Fluid loss through sweating can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances and this in turn affects exercise performance and endurance. It is important to be well hydrated and to sip water while practicing when sweating is excessive. High humidity can contribute to heat exhaustion because the sweat is unable to evaporate and sweat must evaporate for cooling to occur. As humidity levels rise, its important for ambient heat to be decreased to prevent excessive internal heat build up. Air circulation assists in cooling the air as well as evaporating sweat.
Hot yoga is the practice of hatha yoga postures in a heated room that has been popularized by the Bikram method. The concept of heating the room for yoga practice was first brought to California in the seventies by Bikram Choudury, founder of the worldwide Yoga College of India. Bikrams teacher was Bishnu Gosh, the brother of Paramahansa Yoganada, the great spiritual teacher of self-mastery. Bishnu studied his brother's yoga system which teaches concentration on life force and the guidance of it to the cells and tissues of the body as a means of reaching self-realization. He focused his own teaching by mastering how physical and mental strength are developed simultaneously by awakening the energy of willpower.
Under Bishnus guidance, Bikram became an accomplished athlete in cycling, running and weight lifting. After suffering a severe knee injury during a weight lifting competition, Bikram returned to his teacher for help. Once again the guidance of his teacher and a strict yoga regiment, Bikram had a remarkable recovery within six months. Bikram continued to assist Bishnu in researching the health benefits associated with various yoga postures. From the knowledge gained through his experience and commitment to the science of yoga, Bikram developed his series of 26 yoga postures to address the most common ailments of the human body. In the mid-1970's, he brought his method along with the addition of heat to mimic the heat in his country, to the United States. Today, Bikrams method can be found across the USA and around the world.
Marilyn Barnett is the author of the new book, Hot Yoga, Energizing, Rejuvenating and Healing (Barron's; 2003; $14.95). She is a certified Bikram Method yoga instructor and co-owner of Yoga Connection Tribeca in New York City. For more info on her book and workshops, please visit: www.yogaconnectionnyc.com, call 1-888-YOGANET or email firstname.lastname@example.org.